How Many of Your Keywords Are Making You Money?

By Justin Day in Media Strategy on June 4th, 2015

Some marketers like to brag about how dense their keyword portfolios are, but what they don’t want you to know is that among the millions of keywords they implement, only a fraction of them garner traffic, and even less produce sales. Find out how to increase paid search efficiency and ROI by focusing on what works.

increase search engine marketing revenue

While Search Engine Marketing is always evolving, the core concepts which make a good SEM campaign versus a not-so-good campaign are largely unchanged. From initial build-out, to growing and broadening your marketing efforts, proper organization and management of paid search accounts is essential to achieving long-term success. Having a rock-solid, efficient keyword base is where it all starts. Some agencies like to brag about how dense their keyword portfolios are, but what they don’t want you to know is that among the millions of keywords they implement, only a fraction of them garner traffic, and even less produce sales.

We’re not going to lie. We too have practiced the art of casting a ‘wide net’, but after years of experience building out and launching massive keyword lists, we now prefer to take a ground-up approach when it comes to creating and organizing campaigns. This ground-up approach is even simpler to initiate when you are dealing with SEM accounts that have been running for some time. Re-vamping existing accounts is what we like to call a “re-cat”, or a “re-categorization”. A re-cat helps you learn from the account in its current state, in order to design better, more sophisticated, more efficient and successful paid search strategy. This process analyzes the entire account,—from each keyword, each piece of ad copy, each lander, and the organization and naming of campaigns, etc. Really, what it boils down to is a “due diligence” philosophy, which asserts that optimizations do not begin and end with bid changes. We prefer to look at the re-cat as a requisite for any advertiser serious about improving SEM results. We can’t cover it all in a single blog post, but we can shed some light on the methods we use to consolidate keywords down to what works, rather than opting to drag along thousands and thousands of “just because” keywords.


The audit gives you the chance to get rid of junk, clean out spoilage, and to expose inefficiencies when looking at data over an extended period of time. Many keywords hide beneath the radar, spending low on a daily or weekly basis, yet never generating a conversion. Every campaign has at least a few of these keywords, and over time, they can slowly bog down the account. We have found that removing these sneaky “trickle-spend spoilage” keywords can improve overall efficiency anywhere from 10- to 25-percent alone (your results may vary).

The first step to auditing your keywords is pulling entire account snapshots at different points in time. This includes all keywords, their ad group and campaign names, all relevant metric data, as well as the date each keyword was created, so not to scrap new, recently added keywords. Next, categorize the entire list (regretting that 2 million keyword list now?) into relevant, bite-sized chunks. This can likely be done in one Excel workbook.

Break out the keywords like so:

  • Tab (1)  > 1 Conversion
  • Tab (2)  = 1 Conversion
  • Tab (3)  = 0 Conversions, >= 1 Click
  • Tab (4)  = 0 Clicks, >= 1 Impression
  • Tab (5)  = 0 Impressions
  • Tab (6)  = Any keyword created within the last month (duplicates for review)

Getting the bird’s-eye view of all keywords in this plain-as-day presentation will make it really clear what your primary traffic and conversion drivers are, and what is dead-weight.

  • Tab 1 is the soul of the account. Most of these should be good keywords to keep, assuming there aren’t any that have an inordinately high Cost per Conversion. If the account has been managed well, most of these keywords should mostly be within range of the acceptable KPI.
  • Tab 2 lists keywords with only 1 Conversion. These should be treated differently than keywords with 2+ Conversions, because there perhaps isn’t enough data to say for sure if they are or aren’t quality keywords. Look each keyword’s Cost per Conversion for the given time period, and those “trickle-spenders” that have slowly been nibbling at your budget will be glaringly obvious. Remove obvious inefficacies. Next, it’s a good idea to cross reference these terms with the higher-converting terms on Tab 1. If the same keyword in a different match type performs very well, then keep it because of its potential for capturing similar searches.
  • Tabs 3 and 4 are the most time-consuming to sort through. This is where your experience with the account comes into play. Here are a couple things to consider while going keyword by keyword: Are there any variations/match types of this keyword producing conversions? How much is it spending? Is the client particularly fond of the ad group or campaign this keyword generates traffic for? Was the search bid too low or average position too high to lend the keyword a fighting chance?
  • Regarding the keywords with Impressions and 0 Clicks on Tab 4, most can safely be removed, but give them a good look to make sure you’re not deleting anything potentially useful. The data doesn’t lie.
  • Tab 5? Scrap it. They don’t do your campaigns any good. Cross reference this list with Tab 6 to make sure you’re not deleting anything potentially useful that was recently added and still hasn’t had a fair chance. But otherwise, that collection of junk on Tab 5 (which likely includes tons of paused and deleted items anyways) needs to go.

Additionally, you can look at Search Query Reports and conduct competitive analysis for new keyword ideas.  Just be careful not to build out any new terms that were already deemed spoilage or deadweight in your audit!


After the core keyword build is ready, the next step is to categorize them into ad groups and campaigns.  This gives you the opportunity to rethink account structure and enhance your ability to optimize.

When it comes to categorizing keywords into ad groups, you’ll want to keep in mind the entire experience.  There needs to be a correlation between the keywords, the ad copy, and the landing page.  So ask yourself how can you group the keywords in order to provide the more relevant correlation?  This will lead to increased Quality Scores, which means you’ll be paying less per click!  

Once you’ve grouped your keywords into ad groups, you’ll want to then organize the ad groups into campaigns.  We suggest always having Brand broken out from Non Brand so that you can ensure you’re never hitting budget caps on Brand.  For Non Brand keywords/groups, you may decide to have a campaign for each product type or service, or you may just choose to have one massive Non Brand campaign.  How you need to manage your budget will strongly influence how you break out your campaigns (i.e. does the client want to put more budget towards one type of service, vs another?).  


After a re-cat, you may be left with 1/10th of the keywords you started out with. If that makes you nervous, don’t worry. Now almost every dollar spent is likely going to help generate Revenue/Leads/Orders. However, as part of regular maintenance and campaign optimization, we recommend regular keyword additions via Search Query Reports. These reports, pulled directly from the engines, is a cheat sheet showing exactly what people searched for that led to a click from your ad. Instead of guessing, SQRs offer clear and concise direction to expand Campaigns efficiently, instead of relying on guesswork and hunches.  Now you’re working with a ground-up approach!  But the ground is sturdy, reliable and made of prime material!

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